Illegal state aid for Microsoft?

Some interesting exchanges in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, with Southport’s LibDem MP John Pugh raising the subject of open-source software – and in particular, government’s relationship with Microsoft. Er, hang on a moment…

Fundamentally this debate is about neither Microsoft nor open source; it is about eradicating the suspicion and certainly the prospect—indeed, I believe it is the reality—of illegal state aid being given to any software enterprise through the use of public resources.

Oops, sorry, my mistake. Now, what’s this about ‘illegal state aid’?

If someone cannot access benefits online without using a (Microsoft) Windows-based computer, as is currently the case, I do not see how the Government can be doing anything other than involving themselves in illegal state aid. They simply do not need to do that as it would be technically possible to access the system some other way.

Um, yeah, I think I see your point.

Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle gave a familiar argument in response: open source is used in certain places, and it’s a level playing field. ‘We will procure the solution that can offer the best value for money and that can best meet our requirements: high quality, reliability, security and more specific criteria in each case as the contracts are designed. If that solution is open source, we will use open source.’

I’m doing my bit of course, with a (growing!) list of mini-projects from various government sources, which will (in all likelihood) come back to WordPress. Never mind the cost argument: I’m increasingly of the opinion that open source offers a better long-term bet, in terms of quality of product, available skills base, and lack of lock-in.